Yoga Myths: You Have to be Flexible to Do Yoga

Can't Touch Your Toes? It Doesn't Matter to Yoga
Can't Touch This. Peter Cade/The Image Bank/Getty Images

It's a common misconception that you need to be flexible to do yoga. It's not hard to see how this myth came to be, especially in the Instagram age. Almost every picture that you see in a magazine or on social media of someone doing a yoga pose shows off amazing flexibility. But putting your foot behind your head or doubling your body over in a backbend are really not the norms for your average yogi.

Nor is extreme flexibility the ultimate goal of yoga.

The Truth:

Some people are naturally more flexible than others. Some people work really hard at their asana practice and over time become very flexible. Some people were committed dancers or gymnasts as kids or young adults and are using that training to present a very acrobatic style of yoga. None of these scenarios apply to the majority of people in a typical yoga class.

If you've been putting off trying yoga or felt intimidated to go to a class because you "can't even touch your toes," please stop. Don't avoid yoga because you think you aren't flexible enough to do the poses you've seen in magazines. In fact, if you have tight muscles, yoga is just the thing you need to do to loosen them up. It's about a lot more than looking good in a difficult pose. Tightness can lead to back pain and a host of other mobility issues, especially as you age.

Stretching regularly and working more deeply into areas of tightness as they open up is the way to address the problem. This also applies to people who are in great shape in terms of strength and endurance. Improving flexibility is often the missing link and the key to avoiding injury and staying active.

The Truth:

You still may not be able to do the versions of the poses that end up on inspiration boards on Pinterest, but you will be amazed at what you can do with a consistent yoga practice.

The point of yoga is not to show off how flexible you are, but rather to become more flexible over time while enjoying yoga's other health benefits, like improved strength and reduced stress. Yoga is not like gymnastics, in which the most flexible person gets a medal. It is a personal practice, infinitely adaptable to fit each individual needs. It's non competitive, which means not comparing yourself to the person on the mat next to you or to some earlier version of yourself. This acceptance of the primacy of the present moment is a big challenge for many people but ultimately one of yoga's biggest lessons. And, like touching your toes, it gets easier over time with regular practice.

One style of yoga that is well-suited to the nonflexible is Iyengar yoga, because it emphasizes using props to help you get the full benefit of a pose without compromising your alignment.

Viniyoga is also a good choice, since it works at each student's individual level. However, many vinyasa style classes have also embraced the use of props and the importance of adaptability so if you like the idea of a more flowing practice don't let you perceived lack of flexibility stop you. Step into any beginning level class and you will see lots of students just like you. 

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